Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I've got your ridiculous right here, buddy.

My granddaughter Coraline is 16 months old. Of course she’s adorable and brilliant and smells as sweet as fairy sweat. A tiny Amazon in the making. (If you're not a grandma just keep reading. I promise the rest of this won't cause a fucking sugar crash.)

She knows how to unlock and click around on an iPhone, although she still hasn’t figured out how to unlock my Droid and I’m fine with that. I know she’ll be reading my sexts texts soon enough.

Your turn, Mamá
She can do some yoga: down dog, lift both legs, side plank. She can’t do a bridge yet, but then, neither can I. Someday one of us will be able to do a bridge, and it won’t be me unless something breaks. I've heard hip replacement can be costly.

She knows how to say a few words and understands thousands more. If I ask her what a cow says, she replies, “Moo.” And last night when my daughter Elvira asked her what Santa says she said ….. “Moo.” I suspect when we ask her that next year when she’s two she’ll say, “Ho fucking ho, ho, ho. Next stupid question?”

She knows a lot for having been on this planet just over a year. But she’s tiny and soft and precious, so while I want her to learn and experience as much as she can, I still want to protect her from every kind of harm and bullshit.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Elvira’s house hanging out with her and Coraline. Rock Dad was at work. One of their best friends – I’ll call him James -- who is also one of Rock Dad’s bandmates, showed up early to pick him up for band practice.

James is teaching Coraline German, so he talked to her for a while in German. She responded with “Mama?”

When she decided she’d rather read a book instead, I sat down in the recliner, pulled her up on my lap and read with her.

Eventually Rock Dad showed up, and after he did nobody else existed for Coraline. Coraline is in a daddy’s girl phase. She won’t even go to bed at night until he gets home, and then she’ll lie right down and go to sleep. She just adores her daddy.

She jumped down off my lap and ran for the door as soon as she heard him on the stairs. She grabbed onto his legs and tried to pull herself up, shouting and giggling with delight, “Dada! Dada!”

He picked her up and gave her a hug and a toss, but he was distracted. He didn’t want to keep James waiting, so he was hurrying around changing clothes and getting ready to leave again.

Coraline was disappointed. In fact, she got a little bit whiny when he went into the bedroom and closed the door. I tried to persuade her to come back and read her book, but she was insulted that I would even consider myself a decent substitute for Daddy. Elvira didn't measure up either.

James finally picked her up and brought her into the middle of the living room to play, but her attention was on that bedroom door. To distract her, he started spinning her in circles. Elvira and I both watched as he set her down, and she drunkenly stumbled back toward the bedroom saying, “Dada?”

He grabbed her up and spun her again …. and she stumbled sideways and roundabout toward the bedroom again. As he did it the third time, I said quietly to Elvira, “That’s mean. I don’t like it.”

She watched Coraline for a few seconds and said, “She’s OK. She’s laughing. Rock Dad does that with her sometimes, and she thinks it’s funny. She’ll let him know if she doesn’t like it.”

I watched Coraline struggle to keep her balance and thought, Yeah, I used to laugh when my uncles held me down on the floor and tickled me, but I sure as hell didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to cry and throw up. I hated it, but I had to be a good sport or I’d get in trouble. And what about those stupid birthday spankings? How much fun was that, but we all laughed like we were supposed to. Nevertheless, I kept my mouth shut and watched.

After the third time, Coraline wouldn’t go back to James for more spinning. She was getting more desperate, crying for Rock Dad and trying to open the bedroom door. James picked her up and brought her back to where her toys were, but she refused to play and just kept crying and saying, “Dada. Dada.”

James held her in place by her shoulders and said, “Cori, stop that! You’re being ridiculous. You’re a ridiculous little girl.”

I felt my face get hard. I started to get up, but then I sat back down and watched. I have to remember I’m not the mom.

James tried to interest her in a toy again, but she refused to play and pushed his hand away. He was obviously getting angry. “Cori,” he said sternly, “stop being ridiculous and play with your toys like a good girl. Nobody likes you when you act this way.”

I’m sure my eyebrows went clear up to my hairline. I had to clench the arms of the recliner to keep myself in it, and my teeth to keep my mouth shut. James is the oldest of 8 kids. He has plenty of experience with children, but obviously little empathy.

Elvira pulled away from him and ran back toward the bedroom door just as Rock Dad came out. He gave her a quick hug, kissed Elvira, and they were gone. Coraline stood by the door and cried for a minute. Elvira picked her up, snuggled her, and sat back down on the couch with so she could nurse.

“Wow,” I said. “That was …." None of my fucking business.

“What?” Elvira asked.

“That. The spinning. And then telling Coraline she’s ridiculous for being understandably upset over Rock Dad coming home and then leaving right away again.”

“I guess I didn’t notice,” Elvira said. “Sometimes James isn’t very patient.”

“Maybe not, but I hate sitting here listening to a man tell Coraline she’s being ridiculous and nobody will like her because her feelings are inconvenient. That shit shouldn’t start before her second birthday. That shit should never start.”

“I didn’t really think of it that way,” she said.

“That’s because you didn’t grow up with people telling you how you should or shouldn’t feel. And that’s because you don’t allow Rock Dad to tell you you’re being inconvenient when you’re angry or your feelings are hurt. Of course Coraline was upset that her daddy was leaving after he just got home. She missed him today. It makes sense that she would cry. She is not ridiculous for feeling that way. And by the way, I don’t like James very much right now.”

“No, you’re right. I was feeling kind of disappointed that he was leaving already too,” Elvira admitted.

“She’s going to have plenty of people try to manipulate her by telling her she’s ridiculous or silly because they don’t like that she’s upset over something they did or are doing. It doesn’t need to start right here in her own home while she’s still a baby. That fucks people up. She has a right to her feelings.” Fortunately Elvira doesn’t mind my tirades lectures road rage on the highway of life gentle reminders.

I looked at Coraline all snuggled up against her mom, a lock of Elvira’s hair twisted through her tiny fingers, her eyes closed in relaxed comfort. I wished I could protect her from every man who will ever tell her she’s ridiculous because she’s sad that he’s leaving. Or because she’s angry that he lied. Or because she’s too excited. Or … or … or … It broke my heart to know it had already happened to her while she was still in diapers. God. Damn. It.

Maybe I’m too sensitive.  Elvira certainly could have blown me off and told me I was making a big deal out of nothing. That would be easier than having to deal with the issue next time James or some other guy tells Coraline she’s ridiculous.

Certainly in the culture I grew up in I would be considered ridiculous myself for even noticing such a thing, much less making an issue of it. I can’t remember all the times I heard, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about” -- often after I’d been spanked. Or an impatient, “Knock it off. You’re just trying to get attention.” Or, “You’re being silly. Stop it.”

And do you remember what happened if a boy dared to cry about something at school? Maybe things have changed, but when I was a kid, nobody ever forgot the boy who cried. Pussy.

Children’s feelings were inconvenient, possibly disgusting, even when they were simply a normal reaction to being disappointed or hurt or hit. It was OK that I cried when I fell on the merry-go-round and my front teeth went through my lip, but if anyone had known I’d cried over the way Cindy treated me, my reputation – such as it was -- would have hit the dirt.

In fact, I still struggle with this sometimes, as an adult middle-aged woman. I still engage with people – particularly men – who get angry because they don’t like that my feelings are hurt, or that I’m angry, or both – even when it’s the only reasonable response to the situation.

I have stories!

But I’m not going to tell them. This is Coraline’s story.

“Next time I probably won’t just sit here and listen to that,” I said. “Just to warn you. I can’t do it again. Coraline’s too little to defend herself from what I consider subtle emotional abuse.” Famous last words.

Yesterday as we were driving to the grocery store Elvira said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Guess what happened the next time James came over, after that time you were there.”

“I kind of hate to imagine,” I said.

“No, you’ll love this,” she said. “Coraline wouldn’t have anything to do with him. She wouldn’t go near him; she wouldn’t even look at him. Clearly she was angry with him.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Good for her.” I knew it wasn’t just a clingy phase, because she’d met a male friend of mine at my house just a few days earlier and wasn’t a bit shy. Besides, she’s known James since she was born. “So what happened?”
“He asked me why she was being so standoffish. I told him it was because he was such an asshole to her the last time he was here she doesn’t like him anymore.”

“God, I love you. How did he take that? Did he tell her she was being ridiculous?"

“No, he apologized to her. And then she seemed to forgive him and was friendly to him again.”

“Wow,” I said, because I’ve got this great big vocabulary and everything. “Just wow. How did she understand that? At her age? It’s not like he yelled at her or scared her or anything.”

“I don’t know,” Elvira said. “But she wasn’t having anything to do with him until he apologized. She’s never done that with him before.”

“She couldn’t have understood what we were talking about that day ….. could she?”

Elvira shrugged. “She understands a lot.”

No shit!

And I … well, it may sound ridiculous but I almost wanted to cry. With joy. I had to make an intentional choice to change that way of thinking in both my parenting and in the way other people interacted with my kids. It was hard, especially the years they were in school.

And yet, here’s my granddaughter at 16 months handing out her own set of consequences after a man tells her she’s ridiculous. Smack fucking down! She may not be able to talk, but she got her point across. I will not let you on my island unless you respect me.

Maybe ridiculous
And Elvira was there to give her just enough verbal reinforcement, which she only needs until she can articulate it herself.

My girls! One thing they are not is ridiculous. I am in awe of their power and their innate knowledge of how to use it.

What about you? Anybody ever call you silly or ridiculous because you were honest about your feelings? Were you able to resolve the situation, or do you still carry that hurt somewhere inside?


  1. I love this. I love that your family consists of 3 generations of powerful women. I love that you notice these things and don't put up with them. I hope that I will raise my someday daughter in this way. Go Coraline!

    1. Thank you. Not everyone agreed with how I handled this, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.

  2. And, to answer your question, yes. Both as a little kid and as an adult. My favorite answer to this day, when someone asks me how I'm feeling, is "I don't know." It's the best noncommittal response I can give, and noncommittal is good. I think it's why my writing is almost always so was the "channel" I found that was more acceptable and, mostly, less ridiculous.

    1. I'm glad you found that channel. I can say things in writing that I wouldn't say verbally too. In fact, I have to be careful about that sometimes so I don't say too much.

  3. this is amazing and really heartening. would that i could someday be as sure of myself as coraline is right now. bravo.

    1. Thank you, Lindsay. Sometimes just watching her deal with the world reminds me of what I was made of at that age, and of what I might have been if I hadn't had those strong parts squelched. It's kind of a beacon for me. Kids have just as much to teach us as we do them.

  4. You were so right in your feelings about that situation. What can happen to young children who are forced to tolerate an adult's "affections" is that they become powerless to deal w/ abusive advances ( I used to work in a sexual assault crisis center). Sounds like your young Coraline has got a good start! And a good grandma who has her back.

    I have a 4 year old granddaughter and her presence has brought out something fierce in me as well. It's absolutely amazing.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Walker. I have a degree in social work and I used to work with women who had been abused in many different ways. I have pretty strong ideas about where abuse, and the belief that women have to accept it, starts. The world can't have too many fierce grandmas patrolling it.